This year, on my TV show, one of the candidates who made our Special Presidential Interview Series, Dele Momodu was in one cubicle answering nature’s call, and I in the next.
After congratulating me for a range of ‘accomplishments’, he proceeded to share a warning: he had worked with so-called progressives for years, been hounded out of the country, managed popular campaigns, but when democracy came, the same bandwagon that had ruined Nigeria managed to step in and take advantage of a fight that was not theirs.
It is entirely possible to argue, just like he said, that the inability to follow through on their visions and their battles is the reason why Nigeria is caught in a chessboard of unimaginative and un-motivated leaders who are clearly unable to see and solve problems.
The new cadre of change workers, he said, must understand the mechanics of working on the side-lines. They must approach change with strategy and perspective and understand that the fundamentals of our politics must be restructured for the benefit of the large Nigerian socio-economic space.
For people like me for whom change and politics are mutually exclusive in our hearts – who find ourselves unable, and or unwilling to be part of a political environment that is both poisonous and corrupted, this presents a challenge. This is because, as I have learnt over the past six years, making any real change does not come from just speaking, or just getting angry, or just circling the ring.
While those of us young people passionate about Nigeria stay away, safe in the cocoon of our businesses or conferences or newspaper columns, charlatans – and I mean that in the truest sense of the word – are speaking and working on behalf of us, obstructing the potential for real change. The question is – how do you make the change you want count? How do you move from words to action and from action to outcome?
It is the reason I am very worried about the new counter-productive bloc of bloggers and comment box/social media commentators, always worried about those new schoolyard bullies, who are unable to make any impact or any difference, but are ready to throw rocks.
It is not just that they add no value to the process ultimately; it is the potential to irritate away those who can, and are willing to.
I remember that last year, as we made plans for the famous EnoughisEnough rally, we had called on one of our mentors, a “progressive” public commentator and asked him to join. He was very encouraging, but his answer was firm. “I don’t do rallies and these things,” he said. “Because you make all this effort and people don’t appreciate, or understand what it takes, and find it easy to pick holes, to justify their own inability to make impact.”
At that point I found it incredibly selfish – this year I understand. Like many other things, the more active you are the more you open yourself up to second-guessing and motive-questioning. When you are making a profit or advancing your career, that is fine to contend with, but when you are indeed, at considerable cost to self, carrying out an activity solely driven by a conviction for change, those things begin to grate.
Many young people I see and work with these days don’t intend to have a career in activism, and still refuse the tag of ‘activist.’ They are not activists, neither are they carriers of that forcefully-imposed stone-age title of ‘youth leader’ (surely a questionable title, only relevant in the meeting rooms of the CPC, PDP and ACN). They are simply young Nigerians, living, working and maybe excelling in Nigeria, who believe that they must speak up – and work – for themselves when the occasion demands it.
I am endlessly proud of the fact, for instance, that we have now a new model of the young professional – who is on the path of personal and professional success, who is able to establish the independence of mind to engage when engagement is required, and fight when the times call for a battle against the forces that have sadly kept our nation from forward progression. These are people who are neither elected nor appointed, and to quote a writer on Facebook, “have always put their resources and time” trying to do the little – or the much – they can, from their spheres of interest.
But that’s one school, supported by a band of young people who are excited to find their peers working hard and making impact.
There is the other school, like I wrote somewhere else recently, that believe that no change is possible and have no willingness to try, ably enabled by the destructive new breed, not unlike empty bullies in the schoolyard, who have established themselves as professional talkers and smirkers.
But you see, that kind of grandstanding is now so dated. Outmoded. 1990.
We’re no longer under the military. There are no armoured tanks and hired killers. Young people no longer have any excuse not to be involved and engaged. And if someone is not doing it right, then step in and do it better.
The times call only for people who have the strength of character to walk the talk, warts and all.